You turn into the parking lot of the golf course, slowly, carefully, so as not to pull too hard on the fresh scars where your breasts used to be. It would have been easier if you were driving the old Volvo wagon, but your husband, maybe in a fit of guilt because he hasn't touched you since the surgery or just because he was being thoughtful for once, traded it in two days ago for this shiny new van with all the accessories you'd ever need. All, that is, except for power rack and pinion; the sheer effort of endlessly pulling at the wheel to make even a small turn sends sparks of fire racing across your chest (chest now, not breast) and down your left arm, where they removed lymph nodes and muscle tissue in an attempt to arrest the cancer.
You circle the tiny lot looking for a space, but not the handicapped one, a real one, for people whose life is ordinary. You want your life to be ordinary again, safe, like it was before. You find one, at the far end under a menacing sycamore, a space wide enough so that you can open the driver's door all the way, even if it means scarring it on a low branch heavy with seed balls.
Getting the clubs and bag and hand-cart out of the van is harder than it had been in the Volvo, so high off the ground and your arms not ready for heavy lifting yet. You manage it, though not without feeling as if you were ripping open the raw, tender, pucker-flesh all over again. With a too-new golf hat arranged in a too self-consciously jaunty way, you walk the long, impossible walk to the clubhouse door.
And it's not your clubhouse, where they know you, where Ron the pro flirts with you shamelessly and Linda the waitress is ready with your marguerita when you come off the back nine. It's someone else's clubhouse, on someone else's course, with a strange pro and a waitress that doesn't know you from Eve. And they don't know that you were a three-handicap before the surgery, able to hit a drive so sweet and perfect it took you to the club championship two years running.
Still, you think, that's what you want. To be nobody special. To be just the same as other women. To be ordinary, so ordinary that no one would look at you twice. Ordinary, with two good breasts.
You rent a bucket of practice balls and step out onto the driving range, taking an empty tee far away from the other players. Most of them are women and you are careful to appear natural, as if this is just another day. It is, after all, just another day to them.
You manage to tee up, even as streamers of fire lick at your body. The key, you realize, is in ignoring the pain. And the fear. If you let it control you, you'll never take the first swing. Taking a deep breath, you draw the club back, the tearing at tender flesh almost unendurable, but not quite, not quite. You pause at the top, then the club flashes down of its own accord, seeking the ball from long practice without conscious thought.
You tee up another ball and change your stance slightly. The stroke of the club feels truer to you this time, and the flight is straighter and longer. Even as you follow the path of the ball with a critical eye, you can feel the envious looks the other women are giving you. It feels good, and you smile, maybe for the first time in weeks.
Another ball flies high, this one shooting out, out, way out, like a tiny white cannonball. You immerse yourself in the sheer joy of retrieving something you'd thought lost forever. You wallow in it. You're in the pocket now, and every shot you hit flies true and sweet and long.
The last ball in the bucket litters the range before you're ready, a lonely, tattered bubble far beyond the others. You think about renting another bucket, but no, not today. There's a line now for the tees and it wouldn't be fair. At least, that's what you tell yourself. Maybe tomorrow, or the day after, you'll come early and stay later. Probably.
You put your driver back in the bag and stride through the clubhouse, your hat sitting comfortably where it used to, the bill straight and level. You wheel your cart leisurely out the door, a relaxed, easy, satisfied smile greeting the world of people who don't know you, who think of you only as a new face with long, straight, perfect drives and not as a woman with no breasts.
You put the clubs and cart back in the van, a sudden twinge reminding you that, after all, it hasn't been all that long since the surgery, and the rear door is still higher than the Volvo's tailgate. As you back out of the still too tiny space, you make every effort to hook and rip off at least part of the sycamore's encroaching limb, maybe as an excuse to argue with your husband, maybe just so he'll talk to you.
Tomorrow, you tell yourself, tomorrow I will hit two buckets.
Charles Phillips is blue-collar factory worker by trade who divides his time more or less equally between his cats. When he is not too busy catering to the feline set, he finds some small amount of time to experiment with his writing. "When They Take Your Breasts Away" is his latest experiment, a story intended to be read aloud. He can be reached through Georgetypes@hotmal.com.
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